Here’s a place to share news, good or bad, in a chic and intimate atmosphere over a bottle of grand cru or champagne. No matter the occasion, in-the-know New Yorkers make reservations at this mythical little restaurant called Lucien to tell their tales.
Established in 1998, this bistro is one of the few spots in Manhattan that still carries that vintage cool of yesteryears (pre-gentrification) with an authentic French touch. It’s the kind of ambiance many new eateries in the city try to replicate yet rarely achieve. But of course, the owner and legendary New York restaurateur (also of Pink Pony), Lucien Bahaja, a Morrocan-born Frenchmen, has managed to keep the place fresh and familiar, satisfying both sophisticated regulars and stylish newcomers, some of which are about as old as the place itself.
Set on a nondescript street in the trendy East Village, it has all the characteristics of a classic Parisian bistro, except that it’s open 7 days a week - we are in the USA, after all. You can’t miss the bright tangerine storefront with the red awning, under which the glass door and windows are clearly marked CAFE, BAR, RESTAURANT, inviting passersby. The narrow interior offers just as much traditional character, room lined with leather banquettes, tables topped with white table clothes, sultry natural light for lunch (or brunch) while candles burn hot for dinner, and a red glow illuminates the walls covered in a collage of mostly black and white photographs of the prominent personalities who have dined at Lucien. (Can you spot Jean-Luc Godard?)
Perhaps the mood is, how do you say, un peu dramatique; but it’s matched by the intensity of its loyal patrons, many of whom hail from the art, publishing, and literary worlds, and book tables at Lucien (as should you) to gossip, make proposals and celebrate milestones.
If you weren’t convinced before, the menu will transport you to the old Paris, with its classic fare and Provencal specialties. Servers possess the savoir-faire of the French art de vivre. Open your palette with a selection of hors d'oeuvre, such as Escargots de Bourgogne and Salade Niçoise Traditionnelle, and delicious main plates like Lapin à la Moutarde, Bouillabaisse Traditionnelle, and Steak Frites, soaked in butter-based sauce with a dash of brandy. This traditional taste of France is completed by a wine list that exclusively features French bottles.
Though the look is totally French, the feel is absolutely New York. This is the unique nature and beauty of Lucien that captures hearts and turns first-timers into long-timers.
We warn you, it’s a tight fit, but that only adds to the charm of the place. It’s not unusual to overhear your neighbor’s conversation, and they yours. But here, there’s an unofficial official rule: What’s said at Lucien, never leaves Lucien. And that’s why you’ll keep coming back.
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